The Cies islands were already on our radar during our first trip in Galicia. We had the chance to see them several times during our different hikes on the hills around Pontevedra or in the ria de Vigo. But Covid not helping, we did not manage to visit this small paradise archipelago which is located at the entrance of the Vigo estuary.
So, since we stayed 2 months in our Galician home (i.e. the Anceu coliving), we promised ourselves to discover the Cies islands at any cost! So we took advantage of the “Semana Santa” (Easter week in Spain) with the first available boats of the year to go on a 2 days trip to the Cies islands with some friends of the coliving.
Note: I say we but Fabienne couldn’t come because the Cies islands are part of a protected natural reserve forbidden to dogs (I’ll talk about this below). So she stayed on the mainland with Winchy 🙁
- The Cies Islands: a nature reserve in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park
- Useful information to visit the Cies Islands (permit, boat, camping)
- Playa de Rodas: one of the most beautiful beaches in Galicia (and in Spain)
- Other beaches on the Cies islands
- My favorite viewpoints of the Cies Islands
- A hike to discover all the corners of the Cies Islands
The Cies Islands: a nature reserve in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park
The Cies Islands are a small archipelago of 3 islands (Monteagudo in the north, Do Faro and San Martiño in the south) which are located in the south of Galicia, not far from the border with Portugal. They belong to the city of Vigo, which is only 14 km by boat from the islands.
The Cies Islands have been a nature reserve since 1980 and are also part, along with the islands of Ons, Salvora and Cortegada, of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (the only national park in Galicia and one of the 16 national parks in Spain). The seabed is very rich and diverse and the islands are also home to many species of birds (some of which are threatened to disappear) that deserve to be protected (that’s why the Cies Islands are forbidden to pets).
As you will certainly notice, the Cies Islands are also home to the world’s largest colony of Yellow-legged Gulls… so don’t leave any food unattended during your stay or the seagulls will be happy to help themselves 😉
In order to protect this paradise from the abuses of mass tourism, a permit has been established to limit the number of people per day on the Cies Islands. Before your visit, you will have to obtain one of the 1800 spots available to avoid being turned away at the gate of the boat… But don’t panic, we explain you how to obtain this permit easily in the following lines.
Useful information to visit the Cies Islands (permit, boat, camping)
Well honestly we found all and its opposite on internet for the permit and the boat… Our idea was to sleep one night in the camping and to have one day and half to visit the Cies islands. And the information found on the various websites were a little contradictory.
Officially, you are supposed to apply for the permit on the website of the Galician region… permit that is then required on the website of the ferry company to buy a ticket. This is not exactly practical because you have to apply for the permit in advance and then buy the ferry ticket. But as you will see, there are easier ways to proceed 😉
Get the permit with an overnight camping trip
The only way to sleep on the Cies Islands is to spend the night at the island’s campsite (there is no hotel on the island, just the campsite and 3 restaurants). Either you have your own tent and the night will cost you less than 10€ per person, or you can rent a tent with a bed for about 20€ per person. You can find all information about prices on the official website of the campsite.
I think it’s great because there is no luxury tourism on the island, just a simple and clean campsite, which offers prices accessible to all… a good example of an egalitarian and responsible tourism to preserve this small Galician paradise!
The thing is that normally, by booking a night at the campsite you are supposed to get automatically the permit for the Cies islands (it’s written here). I think that in general it works rather well but bad luck for us, we had booked the camping for 6 people and for an obscure reason, we received only 4 permits (a permit is a pdf with a QR code that you receive per mail and that must be presented at the exit of the boat).
In short I pass you the details but after 4 phone calls with the reception of the campsite… no way to obtain the 2 permits which are missing 😉 (even though we do speak spanish lol).
Get the permit by buying the boat ticket with Civitatis
So as I said it to you above, without permit, impossible to buy the ferry ticket on the website of the boat company. So we were a bit worried…
But that’s where Civitatis comes to the rescue. You probably know the website Civitatis, a Spanish company (similar to getyourguide) that makes it easy to book excursions all over the world. On the website, they offer ferry tickets to the Cies Islands at the same price as on the website of the boat company and moreover they take care of getting the permit for you. Isn’t that cool?
So we booked directly through Civitatis by indicating while paying that we were sleeping one night on the island and that we wished to return with the boat of the next evening (there is a space for that on the site) and they took care of the permits problem for us. Result: 30 minutes later we received our 6 permits by e-mail. Yahouuuuu!
Anyway… whether you want to camp on the Cies Islands or not, we really recommend you to pass through Civitatis to buy your boat tickets. It will save you a lot of trouble with the permit and it won’t cost you a cent more 😉
Note: The link towards Civitatis is an affiliate link (i.e. if you buy your boat ticket through our link we get a small commission). But if we recommend you Civitatis, it’s really because we think it’s the easiest way to go to the Cies Islands (as explained above, we also went through them). By clicking on our link, you support the creation of free and independent blog posts like this one. Thank you for your support!
And if you are traveling by boat and wondering how to get a navigation and mooring permit for the Cies Islands, our friends Gaëlle and Jeremy from Sailing Kerguelen explain everything in this post.
Playa de Rodas: one of the most beautiful beaches in Galicia (and in Spain)
Well, now that the organizational and boring part is behind us, let’s move on to more interesting things. As soon as you reach the Cies Islands, you will be immediately immersed in the ambiance since the pier is located at the end of the beautiful Rodas beach.
For the record, this beach was elected the most beautiful beach in the world in 2007 by the newspaper The Guardian (obviously these rankings do not mean much but still). And when you arrive, you will immediately understand why!
This beach is shaped like a perfect crescent moon and connects the islands of Monteagudo and Faro. The water is turquoise, crystal clear, the sand white, fine… A heavenly setting that can be compared to the Caribbean, except for the temperature of the water which is really cold (between 15 and 17 degrees).
In high season it can be quite crowded on the beach (even if the number of people per day on the island is limited) but frankly during Easter we had the beach practically to ourselves. Pure happiness!
A particularity of this beach that makes it even more beautiful in my opinion is that it is completely surrounded by water. To the east there is the sea, some boats moored there and to the west a kind of small lake (lagos dos nenos) that empties and fills up according to the tides. This landscape is particularly beautiful if you go up to one of the viewpoints that I will tell you about below.
Otherwise you will also find around the beach of Rodas 3 restaurants (one at the level of the pier, the 2nd at the campsite and the 3rd a little bit after the campsite… there is even a small mini-market at the campsite in high season) which are nice with decent prices. On our side, as we were not sure that everything would be open at the beginning of the season, we had taken all our food with us. But know that there is largely enough to survive on the island without you having to worry about that! And the view from the terrace for a cool Caña with 2-3 tapas is great 😉
Other beaches on the Cies islands
All the beaches of the Cies Islands are located on the eastern side of the island and the biggest of them is obviously the playa de Rodas. But there is at least another one a little further north that I think would be a shame to miss: La playa de Figueiras. So it does not have the perfect shape of Rodas but for the rest it is just as beautiful and it is also much quieter. Judge for yourself:
There are still some other small beaches here and there if you really want to be quiet… But Rodas and Figueiras should satisfy most of you I think 😉
My favorite viewpoints of the Cies Islands
If the beaches of the Cies Islands are on the East coast, the most beautiful viewpoints are in my opinion on the heights of the West coast which is steeper and wilder. So it’s true that you will have to walk a bit but believe me it’s worth it.
Note: you can find these numbered viewpoints on the hiking map that I will share right after.
Alto do Principe (1): This is clearly the most famous viewpoint of the island (it’s the picture you see of the Cies islands everywhere on the internet). From the pier, the walk up is not very long (about 30 minutes) and the view on the Rodas beach and Faro Island is simply magical! And I recommend you to go up there for the sunset if you sleep on the island… the lights are incredible from there!
Alto da Campa Bird Observatory (2): Personally this is my favorite viewpoint of the Cies Islands. It is located above the campsite, right next to a bird watching hut. For me it is the place where you can see the beach of Rodas best with the island of Monteagudo to the north. I went up here at sunrise but unfortunately was not too lucky with the weather. But during the day, the view still looks like this:
Cies lighthouse (3): This is the highest point accessible by foot on the Cies islands (as it is forbidden to leave the marked paths in the national park). The small road that accesses the lighthouse is really impressive with all its twists and turns. Moreover the view on the San Martiño island in the south while going up is splendid (and the view on the Cies islands in the north is not bad either 😉 )
A hike to discover all the corners of the Cies Islands
Officially there are 4 hiking itineraries on the Cies islands. But as they are all quite short, I combined them to make a big day hike that passes by all the most beautiful viewpoints and points of interest of the islands.
This itinerary, which is a little less than 14 km long, can be easily completed in 4-5 hours of walking with breaks. You will pass by the Rodas beach, Figueiras beach, all the viewpoints I just mentioned to go to the north of the island… perfect if you have a whole day to discover the Cies islands
To finish convincing you, here are some other pictures taken during this wonderful hike on the Cies Islands. You have to admit that it makes you want to walk around 😉
I sincerely hope that this blog post will have inspired you to discover this little corner of paradise, just a stone’s throw from Vigo in Galicia. On my side I really loved the Cies islands for its extraordinary landscapes, its preserved nature and its paradisiacal beaches. And what a thrill to have been able to camp one night on the islands! Not to spoil anything, I find that tourism is really well managed between the rules of protection of the natural park and the fact that there is only camping to stay there. Apart from the fact that you have to plan a little bit to go there (and now you know exactly how to do it), the rest was just great!
So what do you think of the Cies Islands?
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